Students drawn to the challenge of Spikeball

April 23, 2014

by Sean Kirkby

Spikeball

A Spikeball in the grass on Bascom Hill, the site of occasional games. Spikeball Crew UW is promoting the sport at UW-Madison.

Four players, two teams, one ball, a trampoline and 25 points to win – these are the key ingredients of a popular new sport.

Spikeball resembles a cross between volleyball and four square, in which players bounce balls off a circular, taut net attached to a plastic ring the size of a hula hoop and raised half a foot off the ground. After one team serves, the opposing team’s players often run, jump over or dive around the net to return the ball within three hits.

“I like to think of it as beach volleyball with different equipment,” Geoff Cohn, the club’s president and founder, says. “The goal is the exact same as volleyball and that’s to make it as hard as possible for the other team to return your hit.”

The team that reaches 25 first and has a two-point lead wins the match.

Cohn says the game is unique because it can be played by anyone anywhere, from the top of Bascom Hill during the summer to the bottom of ski slopes during winter.

The game, created in the early 1990s as a yard game, was rebranded in the late 2000s by the Spikeball Corporation, which also donated a few of the nets to the club. Popular on other campuses, such as Harvard and Notre Dame, diehard fans are now just bringing the game to the Midwest.

Cohn, a senior studying management human resources and computer science, started the club at the beginning of spring semester in 2013. From a core group of three to four people, the club now has about 60 members and held its first competition last fall. Fifteen teams, including one from Milwaukee and players from Minnesota, competed.

Spikeball game

Players gather for a Spikeball game in front of Bascom Hall.

Stuart McBain, a sophomore studying education, won the tournament with his brother. McBain, who transferred at the beginning of the year from Milwaukee, says he was pleased to find people who already played the sport because of its relative rarity.

“It’s not really like any other sport,” McBain says. “You can move 360 degrees around the playing surface so I think that’s really unique about it. We’re still on a team so you have to rely on someone else…everyone is always wondering what the game is and it’s nice explain it to people and building relations with people who don’t know about it.”

The game often draws spectators. Even while playing at the racquetball courts at the Southeast Recreational Facility, bystanders passing the court above yell down questions about what is happening.

“To be honest, when I first saw it, it looked just like another cheesy yard game but once you start playing it you realize there’s a lot of skill involved in it. It’s all about the little moves. It’s just addicting.”

Nate Mikulsky

Nate Mikulsky, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, says Cohn got him involved with the game and that he played one of his first games at a bottom of a ski slope.

“To be honest, when I first saw it, it looked just like another cheesy yard game but once you start playing it you realize there’s a lot of skill involved in it. It’s all about the little moves. It’s just addicting,” Mikulsky says. “The learning curve is really steep, and I think that’s the most addicting part, that you get better and better.”

Cohn says Spikeball is easy to learn and a blast to play. The club often attracts newcomers who have played the sport only a few times before like Clay Martin, a sophomore majoring in actuarial science.

“I like that you have to work well with your partner to know what’s going on,” Martin says. “I’m not the best player by any means but it helps if you and your partner are on the same wavelength because you can’t do it all by yourself.”

Cohn says the club is focused on recruiting new players. He says they hope to have a competitive team that can travel to national championships as well as hold more competitions here.

However, he says the Spikeball Crew UW is still focused on introducing the sport to as many students as possible.

“The thing that I like the most about having this network of people is that you can post on the Facebook group and say ‘Hey, who wants to play Spikeball? I just finished my exam,’ and then organically get a group of people,” Cohn says. “We really want to be that facilitator so that they can go play whenever they want to.”

The group plays every other week on Fridays at 5 p.m. in the racquetball courts at the SERF. Visit them on Facebook and Twitter.